THE sustainability bandwagon has expanded if the recent Sustainability Summit Asia 2006, was anything to go by. Organised by the cii-itc Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development (cesd), the summit saw the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives--a prominent ngo working on sustainability--hobnobbing with mining giants.
Four mining groups co-sponsored the meet held at Delhi on December 19 and 20, 2006. Among them was Vedanta whose mining practices have raked up major controversies. Among other areas, the company has designs on the bauxite deposits in Lanjigarh, Orissa--reputed to be the world's largest.
The Supreme Court has for the moment put these designs on hold (See box Bad company), and many feel that rubbing shoulders with prominent ngo's could help the mining giant to mend fences with the government and even the local people.
"The fact that the prominent ngo Development Alternatives joined hands with companies like Vedanta shows how flawed our civil society movements are," says Biswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa. But the ngo's president rubbished these allegations. "We have nothing to do with Vedanta as sponsor. I had made it clear that big companies can not get away with what they have been doing in the past, whether it is Vedanta or any body else," he said.
With mining companies at the forefront in organising the meet, it was little wonder that mining concerns dominated the meet. The first session set the tone. It was called "Mining and its perpetual value". It was something that Development Alternatives's president approved of. "We need mining, but it should not be done in a way that destroys the environment or imperils the livelihood of local communities. They should be involved in decision-making and given employment opportunities," Khosla said.
It's a proposition that many grassroot organisations view sceptically. "Mining has neither provided sustainable livelihood for the local tribals nor is environment friendly, it has only destroyed livelihoods of millions," says Debranjan Sarangi, an activist with the Orissa-based Prakrutik Sampada Suraksha Parishad.
"We should try to make standards so that no industry can escape their responsibility," Khosla remarked as if anticipating such criticism. His is not the only civil society organisation which has engaged with mining companies. Earlier, prominent ngo activist Bunker Roy had accepted the alcan sustainability award. alcan Inc is part of the Utkal Aluminium International Limited's Kashipur project which led to the killing of three tribals at Maikanch, Kashipur.
Mining apart, forestry-related issues also held some attention for the meet's organisers. The second session was devoted to forestry and forest-dependent paper industries. The invitees include Indian Paper Manufactures Association, itc, West Coast Paper Mills and specialty paper division of various Corporate Houses, who use forest-based resources. The discussion in the third session of the summit was called "Orissa Evening". This is not surprising because Orissa is a major attraction of the mining majors. Also, not surprisingly, no ngo from Orissa was given a prominent presence. They haven't been roped into the bandwagon as yet--that's a bit surprising though.